Why we built with LRT – first published in December 2008, updated August 17, 2009


The following was first published in December 2008 and is being reproduced here because of popular demand.

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What is Light Rail Transit or more commonly known as LRT?

According to the Light Rail Transit Association (www.lrta.org) Light rail is a mode that can deal economically with traffic flows of between 2,000 and 20,000 passengers per hour per direction, thus effectively bridging the gap between the maximum flow that can be dealt with using buses and the minimum that justifies a metro. But there is more, by track-sharing with existing railways on their rights-of-ways, means that LRT can effectively and affordably service less populated areas, with rail public transport.

Streetcars are also light rail, but operate on-street, in mixed traffic, with little or no signal priority at intersections. The main difference between LRT and a streetcar is the quality of rights-of-way, where a streetcar operates on-street, LRT operates on a reserved rights-of-way or a route that is reserved for the sole purpose of the light rail vehicle. An excellent example for a reserved rights-of-way is the Arbutus Corridor.  A reserved rights-of-way can be as simple as a HOV lane with rails, to a lawned park like route with trees, hedges and flowerbeds.

LRT, in it’s various forms is used in over 600 cities around the world and is the first choice of transit planners for affordable, customer friendly public transport. The German city of Karlsruhe (City population 275,285) has taken light rail to a new standard, by track sharing with mainline railways and operating, what is called tramtrains. In Karlsruhe, one can board a tram, on-street, on the pavement and alight, on-street in Ohringen some 210km (130 mile) later, with the tram acting as a streetcar, light rail vehicle and a passenger train! Karlsruhe’s light rail network now extends over 400 km. (250+ mile) of route, servicing scores of small towns and villages with high quality public transit at very little cost simply because the tram can use existing railway tracks.

This new form of light rail is now called TramTrain and is used in over 10 cities around the world and is being planned for, in almost 20 more.

In British Columbia, TramTrain can be a useful tool for implementing a high quality ‘rail’ transit service, not only in Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, but in Victoria (E & N Railway) and the Kelowna/Vernon rail corridor as well. The question is: Why does TransLink and the BC government reject modern LRT out of hand and continue to build with dated SkyTrain light metro?


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